Things are looking good for Mitt Romney after two strong wins. The result in Florida on Tuesday was a game-changing event, whereas his Nevada victory was never in doubt. The state is heavily Mormon and he won there handily in 2008. In fact, his vote share was lower this time, while his main rival, Newt Gingrich, outperformed Ron Paul, who was hoping to come in second—suggesting that while Gingrich is down, he is not out. He may yet come back to challenge Romney again.
But Nevada was just the first in a string of contests that are perfect for favoring Romney. In the short term, at least, things are going to get even better. Here are the main five reasons why:
Money. Both Romney’s campaign and Super Pac continued to raise more than his opponents in the fourth quarter of 2011, even though Gingrich enjoyed a boom when he sat atop the polls.
Organization. Caucuses have significantly lower turnout than primaries, so turning out your supporters is crucial. Nevada is followed by a string of caucus states such as Minnesota and Colorado. Gingrich has a shockingly disorganized and poorly managed ground game. The Gingrich campaign’s incompetence extends to having failed to get on the ballot in Virginia, which votes on Super Tuesday, March 6.
Establishment support. Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina spooked the GOP establishment, which came out in full force to defeat him in Florida. Gingrich is returning the favor by attacking “the establishment” in his speeches, most notably in his Florida concession speech. What that means for the Republican establishment is that the only thing worse than Gingrich winning before was if Gingrich wins now that they’re on his bad side. If Gingrich shows signs of life, they will react even more strongly.
Personal history. Immediately after Gingrich’s second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, gave interviews on his infidelity and otherwise despicable behavior, it seemed as if Gingrich might paradoxically benefit from the revelations. Republican primary voters are often so blinded by partisanship and ideology that they readily accept any mainstream news reports of embarrassing behavior by one of their favored politicians as smear by the “liberal media.” Just as Herman Cain became a victim of the hostile media in their eyes, and his poll numbers initially rose, Gingrich had the same phenomenon working to his advantage.
When Gingrich furiously chastised CNN’s John King for asking him about Marianne’s accusations in a debate, the audience gave him a standing ovation. The whole fiasco may have actually helped Gingrich win South Carolina.
But in the long run his marital history can only hurt Gingrich, as Cain’s ultimately hurt him. People will eventually forget what Gingrich said to John King, but he will still have two ex-wives he cheated on and left for a younger woman. More importantly, he has a history of ethical improprieties, broken political promises and K Street profiteering. Romney effectively attacked Gingrich on all those fronts in Florida.
The result? Romney is in Gingrich’s head, throwing Gingrich off his game. Gingrich’s response to the results in Florida and Nevada was churlish, petulant and damaging. Conservative writers are panning Gingrich’s late Saturday night press conference in Las Vegas, comparing it to Richard Nixon’s famous farewell after losing the 1962 gubernatorial race in California.
Schedule. Romney will also enjoy a Mormon advantage in Arizona, which votes on February 28. In Michigan, which will hold its primary on the same day as Arizona, Romney’s father George Romney served as governor. And on Super Tuesday, many of the states that are voting are natural Romney territory, including Massachusetts, which he served as governor, and neighboring Vermont.
The RNC took measures to slow the nomination process, pushing most primaries to after April 1, and requiring any held first to allocate their delegates proportionally. That means Romney cannot actually accumulate a delegate majority until April. But the next month will give him a chance to build sufficient momentum that his eventual coronation is virtually inevitable.